|Note: To Chibi and Cassatt - Thank you! I really appreciate the help you’ve given me.
Kill or Cure NC-17
It was growing darker and colder. Storm clouds were gathering menacingly overhead, blocking the few rays of weak winter sunshine that had previously provided a small amount of light and heat. As a low rumble of thunder echoed across the valley, the first spots of icy rain began to fall.
Tom shivered, rubbing at his arms in an attempt to warm himself before picking up the last of the research equipment. Packing it carefully away into its storage case, he tucked it under his arm and hurried to the shuttle, closing the door just as a huge flash of lightning streaked across the sky, and a deafening crash of thunder assaulted his ears. Warmer inside the tiny craft, he left the equipment in the capable hands of his crewmate and settled down to begin the pre-flight checks.
Kathryn Janeway looked steadily around at the people gathered in the briefing room. With the exception of Tuvok and Vorik, neither of whom ever gave any indication of emotion, their faces all reflected the same deep concern that she, herself, was feeling. It wasn’t surprising really, she thought. After all, Tom Paris was a very popular man and an excellent officer; the fact that he was missing was bound to affect all of them greatly. Although, she wondered why Chakotay seemed to be taking the news of Tom’s disappearance harder than anyone else.
She hadn’t missed the fact that her First Officer and Senior Pilot had been spending quite a lot of time together since they’d returned from their mission to Nahldar, two months earlier, but, she thought, they had obviously grown a lot closer than she’d realised. The Commander’s unnaturally pale face, and his almost total silence since Harry Kim’s announcement that Tom’s life signs were not registering on Voyager’s scans, were testament to that. Although she knew his personal feelings wouldn’t interfere with his ability to perform his job to the best of his capabilities, for her own peace of mind she vowed to keep a close eye on Chakotay’s condition.
Bringing her thoughts back to more pressing matters, she turned to address the person who had accompanied Tom on the ill-fated mission. “Ensign Vorik. Is there anything else that you can tell us before the teams depart? Anything at all that might give us some kind of clue as to what could have happened to Lieutenant Paris.”
The Vulcan stood at attention and shook his head. “No, Captain. My report was complete. There is nothing further that I can add.”
“So, as far as you’re concerned the Lieutenant just vanished?”
“It is not logical for anyone to ‘just vanish’, Captain. There must be a rational explanation for the Lieutenant’s disappearance. However, insufficient data at present prevents me from supplying that explanation.”
“As it does all of us,” Janeway commented with a sigh. She pressed on. “But, Ensign, you heard nothing and you saw nothing, is that correct?”
“Yes, Captain,” Vorik confirmed. “As I stated previously, I was returning the research equipment to its place in the storage locker while Lieutenant Paris was at the helm, performing pre-flight checks. When I had finished my task, I went to take my seat alongside the Lieutenant, but he was no longer there. I had not heard the shuttle door open, and, upon inspection, I found it to be closed. As my efforts to locate the Lieutenant, both inside and outside the shuttle, failed, I contacted Voyager, to request help.”
“Quite so. And, fortunately, during a lull in the storm, we were able to transport you back.” She sighed again, straightening herself in her chair as she then addressed the room in general. “The shuttle is still on the surface; I want every single part of it scanned. And I want the area around it scanned thoroughly, too; you already know which areas you have been assigned to. You are to remain with your respective partners at all times and to keep in regular contact with each other and with me.” She nodded towards the Vulcan Ensign. “As Ensign Vorik has already said, there has got to be a rational explanation for Mr. Paris’ disappearance; I want you to find it. *And* Lieutenant Paris.” She gazed around again, noting with satisfaction the determined looks that had appeared on her officers’ faces. “You will report to the transporter room in ten minutes.” She rose from her chair. “Dismissed. And good luck to you all,” she added as the room began to empty.
The storm that had engulfed the area earlier had cleared. The sky was still somewhat overcast but the clouds were broken, allowing some sunshine to bring a little welcome light and warmth to the group of people now standing on the sodden ground in front of the shuttle.
“Let’s get underway,” Chakotay ordered, quickly gaining their attention. “Move outwards from the shuttle and scan every inch of ground until you reach the distance we agreed upon. Report in as you go. I want to hear from each group every fifteen minutes, and then I will contact Voyager once I‘ve heard from each team. Lieutenant Torres and I will scan the shuttle before we head off, and we will meet you all back here once the entire area has been covered. Understood?”
Affirmative answers were given, and the teams consisting of Tuvok and Vorik, Greg Ayala and Harry Kim, and Gerron and Tabor each set off in different directions, following the search pattern previously outlined in the briefing room. Chakotay watched them for a moment, then turned and gently tapped B’Elanna on the arm. “Let’s see what we can find inside,” he said, gesturing towards the shuttle’s entrance. B’Elanna nodded, and they walked together to the door.
Vorik had been careful to disturb as little as possible during his search for Tom, so the shuttle was almost exactly as it had been at the moment of the Lieutenant’s disappearance. The instrument panel at the helm showed that Tom had performed just over half of the necessary pre-flight checks. “I really don’t understand this, Chakotay,” B’Elanna commented, looking at the readouts. “Tom just wouldn’t leave the rest of the checks unfinished, not without a very good reason. And even then, it’s not likely. What the hell could’ve happened?”
Chakotay sighed heavily as he sat down in the pilot’s seat, his gaze resting on the same readouts. “I don’t know, B’Elanna," he said quietly. He tried to keep his voice steady, but it was difficult. Ever since it became obvious that something had happened to Tom, it had been a struggle to suppress the fear that had gripped his heart. "No matter how long it takes, though, we’re going to find out,” he continued. “We‘ll get him back." He closed his eyes briefly. "We have to,” he said, his words now almost a whisper.
B’Elanna looked at her former Captain, noting the strain apparent on his face and in his voice; he was taking this situation very badly, she realised. “You and Tom have become very good friends, haven’t you, Chakotay.” It was more a statement than a question.
Chakotay nodded slowly and turned to face her, sighing again. “Yes, we have,” he confirmed, his mind wandering back eight weeks to the outcome of his and Tom's mission to retrieve Voyager's stolen equipment. “We went through a lot together on Nahldar; it put everything into perspective for us and we‘re a lot closer as a result of it.”
“I’d noticed that you’ve been spending more time together lately.”
“We’ve been enjoying each other’s company,” Chakotay said softly. Although Tom didn’t want their relationship to become public yet - he’d said he wanted to enjoy the newness of it without outside interference for a while longer - Chakotay didn’t think he was revealing too much information by saying what he had.
B‘Elanna nodded. “That’s been pretty obvious,” she remarked. “Both you and Tom have seemed much happier since that away mission; I’m glad about that.”
“So am I,” Chakotay agreed. “Tom has made a real difference to my life, and I don’t want that to end. We’ve got to find him.”
“You’re right, we do. And we will, I know it.”
Chakotay gave her a small smile. “Thanks, B’Elanna. I appreciate your optimism.” He took a deep breath and stood up then, activating his tricorder. “Come on. Let’s get started on the scans. There has to be something here that will explain what happened. We‘ll work our way towards the rear of the craft, comparing notes as we go.”
"Let‘s do it,” B’Elanna said decisively.
“Two hours of trudging through mud and slime, and we haven’t found so much as a footprint. Where could Tom have gone?”
Greg Ayala looked up from studying the readout on his tricorder and shook his head. “Beats me, Harry. Someone should’ve found *something* by now. It‘s like he just vanished into thin air.”
“Yeah,” Harry agreed, stepping to his left to avoid walking through what looked to be a particularly deep puddle. “In fact, the more I think about it the more I’m inclined to believe that Tom was transported out of the shuttle. Except, the only problem with that theory is that Voyager’s sensors haven’t picked up any alien vessels or unusual activity. So, if he *was* transported, how was it done, and *who* transported him?”
“Again, not a clue,” Ayala replied, stopping. He checked his tricorder again, noting that they’d reached the pre-agreed limit of their search area. “Time to make a ninety degree turn, then we need to walk straight on for about a half hour before we head back towards the shuttle,” he stated. He caught sight of the unhappy look on Harry’s face and reached out to pat his arm. “He’ll turn up, Harry. He always does. He’s probably just wandered off somewhere and something on this planet’s masking his signature. It’s happened before. Remember Chell during one shore leave last year? He went off with a tour guide into the desert. They got lost and covered in dust and we couldn’t locate them - not until they overheated and decided to jump into that lake they found. After the dust had been washed off, they suddenly turned up on our scans.”
“Yeah, I remember that. But they didn’t disappear in the middle of running pre-flight checks,” Harry observed, still troubled despite Greg’s attempts to ease his fears.
Ayala sighed. “Yeah. I know. But let’s try and stay positive.” He gestured towards the expanse of rain-drenched ground to their right. “Come on, Harry. Maybe we’ll find something in this direction.”
Harry nodded. “I hope so, Greg,” he responded quietly. And sharing one last encouraging look, they set off to cover the next part of their designated search area.
“Anything to report, Gerron?” Chakotay asked hopefully after stopping to answer the Bajoran’s hail.
“Nothing positive, Sir,” came the disheartening reply. “Tabor had some unusual readings a few moments ago, but it turned out to be a tiny fragment of what was probably a meteorite. We’ll bring the rock back with us; it might be of interest to someone on Voyager.”
“How long until you make it back to the shuttle?”
“We’re just on the other side of the hill, Sir. I estimate it will take us about another half an hour at the most.”
“Okay. Commander Tuvok and Ensign Vorik should arrive shortly after you two get there. Give the Commander a full report on the area you covered, and then, if conditions allow, you and Tabor can transport back to Voyager.”
Chakotay closed the link and looked at B’Elanna. They were standing on a tree-covered hilltop on the opposite side of the valley to where Gerron and Tabor were, and she was peering skywards, obviously concerned about the fact that the light was fading fast. After four hours of searching and scanning, no-one had found any trace of the missing pilot, and if they didn’t complete their search of the immediate area soon, the creeping darkness would curtail their scans until morning. “After I’ve contacted the Captain, we’ll get going again,” he said, tapping his comm badge.
The hail was answered immediately. “Janeway here. Have you found anything, Commander?”
Chakotay sighed, then relayed the depressing results of the search so far. “B’Elanna and I….”
“One moment, Chakotay,” Janeway said, cutting him off. He could hear a muffled conversation being carried out on the ship before the Captain’s voice once more addressed him. “Commander. I need you to confirm something for me. Could you check the location of Mr. Kim and Mr. Ayala?”
“Certainly, Captain. But, may I ask why?” He activated his tricorder as he spoke, then worriedly gestured to B’Elanna to do the same when Harry and Greg’s whereabouts failed to register on his.
“As you know, we’ve been keeping a permanent location check on all of you, but a moment ago Lieutenant Ayala’s and Ensign Kim’s signatures vanished. I’m hoping you can allay my fears and tell me our sensors are wrong, and that it’s just the electrical storms prevalent on this planet that’s interfering with them.”
“Hell!” Chakotay shook his head in disbelief as B’Elanna showed him the readout on her tricorder.
“Commander?” Janeway queried.
“There’s no trace of them on either of our tricorders, Captain. But I suggest you contact Tuvok and ask him to check as well. I’ll contact Gerron. Maybe it’s just mine and B’Elanna’s location that’s causing problems.”
“Let’s hope so. I’ll contact you again shortly. Janeway out.”
“What the hell do we do now?” B’Elanna asked as the link closed. “It’s nearly dark. We haven’t even found any hint of Tom, and now Harry and Greg are missing, too. How are we going to search for them tonight?”
Chakotay rested a soothing hand on her shoulder, trying, despite his own ever-growing fears, to calm her. “We don’t know for sure that they *are* missing yet. I admit that the results *we* got don’t look promising, but let’s wait until we hear back from the Captain before we jump to any conclusions. In the meantime, we’ll head back towards the shuttle. We still need to complete the scans of this area. Come on.” His words, and the fact that they would have something else to concentrate on for the moment, helped to ease his own worries just a little, and they set out again through the gathering gloom, intent on finding an answer to the mystery of recent events.
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